By Amir Suhail Wani
Classical philosophy emerged out of wonder, modern philosophy has moved beyond wonder just to relapse into doubt. Thus post-Descartian philosophy is one rooted in doubt. Scepticism is reason de for larger corpus of post renaissance philosophy. Whereas for Pre-Socratics and for larger band of Platonists, language was apriori and meaning was rooted in being, modern day invasions on semiotics, linguistics and emergence of entire enterprise of “philosophy of language” has pushed away the original project of philosophy- the project of quest for meaning. The dissociation of meaning from its ontological roots and its remapping onto epistemological sub-narrative has created a paradigm shift in the history of philosophy. Plato’s ideal of form and idea, Hegel’s concept of spirit and such metanarratives have been abandoned in wake of postmodernist subjectivity and epistemic relativity. What has remained is a squabble of rhetoric committed to divorce sign from signified and reality from representation. This has no doubt lead to, to borrow Gadamer’s term “fusion of horizons”, but the principal horizon, the horizon of Being and its process of self actualisation has imploded to such an extent that modern philosophers no longer bother to talk about it. Heidegger was perhaps the last in that galaxy of profound thinkers who engaged with this question of Being. Here, an attempt shall be made to trace the evolution (possibly devolution) of western philosophy from Plato’s enquiry intoworld stuff to Wittgenstein’s reflections on theory of language. This process shall be traced only to monitor its influence of human conditioning and to underscore the fact of deflection of philosophy from its original mission of enquiry intoBeing(Metaphysics) to its later day obsession with issues least concerning the human subject and our conditioning here on earth. While making sky high claims about varied epistemic aspects, it will be seen to what extent has modern philosophy remedied human anxiety, alienation and existential chaos and what is to be expected of it in case it continues to work in its present orientation of momentum.
Philosophy as a discipline rose to occasion as an enquiry into the nature of Reality and the discovery of ground ofBeing. This truth hunt was what was actually known atMetaphysics, the term that has lately been confused with occultism and peeping into skies. This quest forground of Being steered Greek philosophers in the direction ofLogos and set Indian sages to indentify that ground of Being withBrahmanwhile as inspiring Semitic prophets to identify that Ground of Being with Yahweh (Literal meaning : He Brings into Existence Whatever Exists). It was believed that gnosis of Logos or Brahman or Yahweh will bring with it unadulterated Truth, and thus unlimited joy and infinite wisdom. This trilogy of Sat, Chit, Ananda (Truth, consciousness and Bliss) was seen as the apex which all human endeavours must culminate at. Thus an account of philosophy even as partial and subjective as that given by Russell could not escape but reveal the fact that founding fathers of Greek thought were no dabblers, but were deeply concerned about the existential realities that the facticity of life has always pressed upon mankind. The human anxiety and alienation that has only been rediscovered by existentialists was realised at much deeper level by Greek philosophers, Indian Sages and Semitic prophets. The existential claims to originality vis a vis pin pointing of such issues human as anxiety, dread, alienation etc needs little reconsideration. Can modern existentialism claim to have inspired subjectivity and dread greater than that as recorded in lives of Buddha and Ibrahim? The answer is resounding negation. Little bit of digression from my stream of thought. So philosophy, in its original sense was a genuine quest for the sacred, transcendent and meta-ontological realm. This spirit was carried forward for quite a large period of time, unless we enter early Middle Ages, where we see philosophy losing its original meaning and form, sum and substance, so much so that it lost almost its all contacts with its own essence. With the spread of Christianity and Islam like a thunderbolt, a problem of unique nature arose which was never witnessed before and which continues to haunt human mind to this day. Both Christian and Muslim scholastics failed to realise the essence of philosophy so much so that a new oxymoronic discipline of theology came into existence. Theology primarily arose out of two confusions
· The perversion of philosophy from its transcendental ideal and its obsession with things of inferior degree
· The failure on part of theologians that early philosophers were not actually antagonistic or indifferent to religion. They were just religious and spiritual in their own way.
This failure on part of scholastics and this perversion on part of philosophy was what laid grounds for theology – a gymnasium trying to reduce spiritual and religious geometry to philological and scholastic algebra. What all this surveillance brings home is the fact that by medieval times philosophy was already receding farther away from its ideal and was turning into what Schoun has described as “democratic misosophy”, wisdom was replaced by mere love of wisdom to Quote Guenon. But even in this era of decadence and scholastic brawl one comes across illustrious figures like Boethius, St. Augustine, Sankara, Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra among others who tried to restore to philosophy its pristine glory and kept reminding their fellowmen ,the original functions of philosophy (Hikmah, Sophia, Darsana) . But renaissance brought with it its own one dimensional empiricist epistemology. With the slogan that “only perceptible is possible” and insistence on dogma of irrationality that “Non experience implies non existence” created ontological calamity of highest order. Prior to this one dimensional epistemic confinement ,man aspired for higher levels of being and used to leash his intellectual and spiritual energies to become more than what he was. But to inform man that he was himself the ultimate end and the last level in the ontological hierarchy of being proved anything but a colossal catastrophe. Now there were no ideals to look for, no higher levels of being to be aspired, nothing, but man bereft of vertical dimension of existence and made to survive the saga of self alienation. Iftikhar Arif sums up this loss of transcendence as :-
“kabhi aflak se naalu kay jawab aatay thay
In dinoo aalami aflaak se khauf aata hai”
What started as a simple project in positive science under euphemism of renaissance soon engulfed social science and in particular philosophy. With vertical dimension chopped off, men of learning strived and starved for meaning within the perimeters of immanence. But this, asGodel’s theorem has taught us was mission impossible. Thus it is no wonder that a large bunch of philosophers from post renaissance era mourned this loss of meaning. With meaning of life gone to do dooldrums, most of the philosophers kept themselves and the masses at large opiated with the technological revelations of this new one dimensional science. But is science justified to hide its epistemological redundancy behind the facade of its technological achievements. Let me quote Rene Guenon’s conclusive remarks about it. Rene notes “in taking on its present form, science has lost not only in depth but also, one might say, in stability for its achievement to the principles enabled it to share, in their immutability in the full measure that its subject matter allowed, whereas being now completely confined to the world of change, it can find nothing in it that is stable and no fixed point on which to base itself”. Now philosophy, resting like a lid on top of contemporary science came to be infected with same flaws as characterised the science of the day.